Man Diagnosed With Prostate Cancer Develops An "Uncontrollable 'Irish Brogue' Accent" That Baffles Scientists

He had never been to Ireland.

An American man who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer developed an "uncontrollable Irish brogue accent" that left experts mystified, CTV News reported this week.

The patient, who was in his 50s and had been diagnosed with metastatic hormone-sensitive prostate cancer, experienced an unexplained change of speech nearly two years into treatment. "His accent was uncontrollable, present in all settings, and gradually became persistent," researchers said in a report published last month in the journal BMJ Case Reports.  Read on to find out more, including about the man experienced, the potential medical explanation, and how common this condition is, according to scientists.

Man Had Never Been To Ireland

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The man's speech changed about 20 months after his diagnosis, the scientists said. Although he lived in England briefly in his 20s and had Irish family and friends, he had never been to Ireland or spoken in an Irish accent before. The man had no psychiatric issues, head trauma, or any known psychosocial stressors before his speech change appeared, the researchers said.

"Foreign Accent Syndrome"

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The man continued speaking in an Irish accent even as the cancer worsened, spreading to his brain and leading to his death several months later. The scientists believe the man experienced foreign accent syndrome (FAS), also known as pseudo-FAS or dysprosody. It's a consistent change in speech that makes it seem as if a person has a foreign accent. It often occurs after a stroke, although it's also associated with head trauma or a history of psychiatric disease, the researchers said.

Likely Cause An Autoimmune Disorder

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But in this case, the most likely cause was paraneoplastic neurological disorder (PND), the researchers said. This syndrome develops infrequently in some people with cancer when the immune system's cancer-fighting agents attack parts of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves, or muscle.  Research suggests there's an association between paraneoplastic syndromes and advanced prostate cancer, the BMJ report said. The man had developed paralysis in his legs and arms, another common sign of paraneoplastic syndrome.

Only Two Other Cancer-Related Cases Described

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The researchers found only two other similar cases described in the scientific literature, CTV News reported. One was in 2009 involving a 60-something woman with breast cancer, and another in 2011 of a woman in her 50s who had developed seizures.  "To our knowledge, this is the first case of FAS described in a patient with prostate cancer and the third described in a patient with malignancy," the report said. "This unusual presentation highlights the importance of additional literature on FAS and PNDs associated with prostate cancer to improve understanding of the links between these rare syndromes and clinical trajectory."

Other Cases of FAS Had Varying Triggers

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In 2011, NPR News reported on the case of an Oregon woman who went in for dental surgery and awoke from anesthesia with foreign accent syndrome—her "born and bred" American accent had been replaced with a "hodgepodge of English, Irish and perhaps a bit of other European accents." Karen Butler was one of only about 100 cases of the syndrome reported since it was first described in the 1940s.

The most famous case is likely the Norwegian woman who developed a German accent after being hit by shrapnel during WWII and was ostracized. Other cases include a British woman who developed a Chinese accent after a migraine headache, and another British woman who began sounding French after a stroke, NPR reported.

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